The Gadsen Correctional Facility (Quincy, FL) is a privately owned women’s correctional facility that houses approximately 1,530 prisoners for the Florida Department of Corrections. Florida State University (Tallahassee) is comprised of 16 separate colleges with nearly 42,000 students enrolled. These institutions located 25 miles apart had nothing in common until Shelly Sonberg (Warden of Gadsen) invited Dr. Judy Bowers (Professor of Choral Music Education/FSU) to work with the women’s choir at the facility. Hesitant at first, Dr. Bowers’ mind was changed after spending two hours working with the women. Since her first visit in the spring of 2015, she has been taking a group of nearly twenty FSU College of Music student and faculty volunteers to Gadsen each week for a two-hour joint rehearsal.
The program has shaped her students’ view of the world and has proven to be a powerful education tool, particularly when it comes to developing empathy and compassion for others. Sonberg says, “What she can do in an hour and a half with women who maybe have never taken a music class in their life or never thought they could sing — she teaches them how to read basic music, teaches them about theory, takes the time to talk about the origin of music. It truly is a learning experience for the women. That’s just the beginning. They may be shy, but suddenly they are doing something that is deep, personal, intimate … and they’re sharing.“
"The students come and they love us because we're people just like they are. We made a mistake and we're learning from it," said glee club member Jenifer Lockwood. Bowers says “I do know that what we are doing for the prisoners is good for them, but I’m going to tell you very selfishly that it is good for the FSU kids,” Bowers said. The FSU-MTC Glee Club was invited to perform with the Tallahassee Community Choir, comprised on over 200 singers and conducted by Dr. Andre Thomas. The MTC Glee Club recorded their performance in advance because they were not able to physically attend the performance. The concert theme: “Praise & Redemption —the power of song.” Learn more about how choral music is being used to build bridges in the greater Tallahassee community by watching the video below.